As a Yakiniku (Wagyu Beef BBQ) fan living in Tokyo, there’s one thing that I’ve been wondering for a while – why don’t I see foreign tourists in the most popular Yakiniku places in Tokyo?

For those that are not familiar, Yakiniku (焼肉) is a Japanese word that means “grilled meat.” Yaki (焼) means “grilled,” and niku (肉) means “meat,” in this case, specifically beef. Many Yakiniku restaurants in Japan use expensive Wagyu (和牛), a word which refers to rare Japanese breeds of beef cattle. Kobe beef and Matsusaka beef are examples of the finest Wagyu brands.

Two pieces of wagyu meat grilled on a grilling net
Wagyu grilled on a grilling net

Since its arrival from Korea in the 1940s, Yakiniku has been one of the most widely accepted cuisines for decades in Japan. So why aren’t tourists going to the most popular Yakiniku restaurants? Are they too busy eating Sushi and Sashimi and forgot about beef? However, looking at these videos on Youtube, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

So I made a hypothesis that local Yakiniku fans and tourists go to different Yakiniku restaurants.

Firstly, I checked the Tripadvisor and its ranking for Yakiniku Restaurants in Tokyo – surprisingly or unsurprisingly, it looks completely different from the ranking that I’m familiar with as a local.

For example, check “Yakiniku a Five Toku Ginza8chome”, which is ranked Tokyo’s No. 1 Yakiniku on Tripadvisor, and its rating on Tabelog (the Japanese version of Yelp!). Its average ratings by users (mostly Japanese) is 3.09 out of 5.00, which doesn’t even make Top 500 in Tokyo. “Yakiniku Musashi” in the above video is rated 3.34 on Tabelog.

For your reference, anything above 3.50 or higher is considered a “pretty good” restaurant and above 4.00 is considered “legendary” on Tabelog.

Sliced Wagyu Beef with Vegetables on a plate
Sliced Wagyu with Vegetables

“What is happening?”

Aside from whether it’s good or bad, Tabelog tends to have high ratings for luxurious restaurants that are expensive (for the top Yakiniku restaurants, it can range from $150-250). On the other hand, Tripadvisor’s ranking seems to be more inclined towards “good value for money.” Both Yakiniku A Five Toku and Yakiniku Musashi offer “All you can eat” for $50-100, a system that is not offered in high-end restaurants.

Below is the Tabelog’s Top 10 Yakiniku in Tokyo. As mentioned, these restaurants are not cheap and hard to make reservations. But for those looking for “the best quality Yakiniku in Japan”, it can be a trustworthy reference.

Tabelog’s Top 10 Yakiniku in Tokyo (28th July 2019)

1. Sumiyaki Kinryu-zan (炭焼 金竜山)
2. SATO Brian Nigo (SATOブリアン にごう
3. SATO Brian (SATOブリアン
4. USHIGORO S. GINZA
5. USHIGORO S. NISHIAZABU
6. EBISU YOROKNIKU ( YORONIKU)
7. Yakiniku Jumbo Hanare (焼肉 ジャンボ はなれ)
8. Sumibi Yakiniku Nakahara (炭火焼肉 なかはら)
9. Satoburi DA (サトブリDA)
10. Yakiniku Ginza Kobau (焼肉 銀座コバウ)